To All the Boys I’ve Played Before: Why Dating Isn’t A Game 

My deep dive into the dating game went like this:

It was New Years Eve, and I was riding passenger in my best friend’s cherry red Jetta Volkswagen like any other day. It was freezing outside and I forgot my coat. I didn’t mind the cold weather much as I boiled over with excitement to party into the new year with my favorite girl and my favorite guy.

With overly-processed hair and overly-lined eyes to match, I sported a grey leopard-print sweater, grey skinny jeans, and a golden braided headband with some cognac-colored riding boots. Don’t ask me how or why I put that fit together (let’s blame it on the times) but I was feelin’ myself, jammin’ to Tha Carter III, and ready for the night ahead. 

Then, everything changed. 

I can’t believe it. 

This nigga broke up with me. Via TEXT. ON A HOLIDAY. 

So nasty and so rude (Nene voice)  

I cried. I felt my heart sink into my boots and shatter into a million pieces. My girl leaned over and consoled me. Suddenly, I felt the unforgiving chill from outside and wished I had my coat. 

I guess you could call this my villain origin story. 

From then on, I vowed to never feel that way again (as if I could help it). No man would ever catch me slipping emotionally; I swore that I’d never “forget my coat” again. 

Fast Forward About a Decade

Same day, different side of things (in more ways than one). This time I was awkwardly stuck in my living room unsure if I did a good thing. 

Sad yet relieved, I realized that my little black party dress and fresh gel set would never see the light of night, as I had just ripped a man’s heart out of his chest. 

It hurt to look at him. As he sank into my couch, I couldn’t help but remember that feeling–your heart shattering piece by piece. Everything feels heavier and it seems like nothing will get better. I hated that I made him feel that way.  

How did I get here? 

How could I cause someone the same pain that I never wanted to feel again? 

I Learned the Game. I Learned the Hustle.

Remember when I told y’all that “I saw love as a game–a game I was playing to WIN”? Well, let’s expand on that a bit. 

Before that point (and even a little after), I dated from a place of self-preservation. I played by three rules:

  1. Never let him see me sweat
  2. Always hedge my bets
  3. Match his energy

The first rule was the most challenging one for me because I’m a sensitive, hopeless romantic. When I like someone I’m not afraid to show it. I want to talk to you, spend time with you, laugh with you, learn you; I will live as far in your skin as you’ll let me. But, after some time and hurt feelings, I learned to reciprocate enough attention for a man to feel my presence, but not enough to know that he had me. I took my attention elsewhere the moment I sensed some confusion. 

By “hedge my bets,” I mean that I kept a backup plan man in my phone in case my current one was being weird to me. Of course there was always one guy that I liked more than the rest, but I’d quietly start answering DMs, liking pics, and talking slick as soon as I felt unappreciated. 

I was hellbent on keeping the same energy given to me. I’d purposely wait to respond to texts, be brief, ignore calls, all of the manipulative stuff. If a man cheated on me, I’d cheat back. If he changed up, I would too.

I’d be screaming for consistency on the phone one night, only to end up with flowers and floor seats from another man the next (and it may or may not end up on socials). It was pretty nasty work on my part. 

…But Was I Winning?

As a self-proclaimed “serial monogamist,” however, the thought of having a roster made me itch. It always felt like I was forcing my hand. One man was typically enough for me, but dealing with the bullshit of multiple? At the same time? Nah. Sounds as appealing as drinking bleach. And, yet, here I was ready with a straw–all because I refused to lose the game. Ugh. 

The problem was that I wasn’t seeing these men as people to love, but as opponents to be outsmarted and beaten. They hurt my feelings and bruised my ego, so I didn’t give a damn about what I did to theirs. 

When I viewed dating as a game it allowed me to claim that all of my behavior was fair and acceptable. But it wasn’t. It was inconsiderate and hurtful.

F*ck whatever you heard–we can hate the player and the game. 

This is real life. 

These are real people’s feelings that we affect. And I’m sorry for the role I played in ignoring that.

Though dating should be fun, it isn’t inherently or inevitably a game. Playing the game is a choice; a choice to break the honesty, trust, and freedom to be vulnerable that true romance brings. 

I became much happier when I stopped playing to win and started to have fun and honor what I want, regardless of the outcome. Once I let my guard down, I was able to find a true, mutual, and lasting connection. 

I won’t absolve myself of the f*ckshit I’ve done by saying it made me a better partner or person; mind games are selfish and unhealthy no matter how long ago I played them. I don’t have any excuses for why I did the things I did; just reasons. What I will say is that I’m learning, evolving, and being honest about where I am in my journey. 

This Could Be You, So Stop Playing!

I think that’s the key to enjoying the dating experience: showing up as our genuine selves and being secure enough to let the chips fall where they may. It’s not about who has the upper hand, but we should always be asking ourselves “Is this what I want to do? Is this working for me?” in any situation. 

If the answer is ever “no,” then figure what it will take to turn things around and communicate that (even if the result is removing yourself from the situation). But, remember this: if we want things to be different, then we have to move differently. 

When we play the same stupid games, we win lose the same stupid prizes. And I know y’all are ti’ed of playing. I am too. 

So, I urge you to lead with your head and your heart before you resort to playing games out of fear or unfulfilled needs. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and stop playing with the emotions of the people you date. 

Can’t get enough of our advice to 20 Somethings? Check out our Instagram and Twitter for daily gems on how to live your best life! 

Written by: B. Sierra


Leave a Reply